Skip to main content

Smile and You Feel Happy? Maybe not

Image result for Robert Zajonc

A recent story in Slate discusses replication issues with recent experiments on the relationship between emotions and facial expressions.

This is appropriate grist for a blog called "Jamesian Philosophy Refreshed" if only because the initiating issue sounds so much like the James-Lange theory of emotions. But, I would submit, the sounds-like is key. There are big differences.

But to start from the (logical) beginning. One normally suspects that a facial expression is, as the term implies, that which expresses something deeper.  The emotion is the something deeper. So happiness is the cause and a smile is the effect.

But some psychologists have claimed that they could increase an experimental subject's happiness by getting him to smile. By hooking his face up to electrodes that lead nowhere, for example, and telling him, "you're helping us in an experiment on the neuro control of facial muscles." That way, his "smile" comes about for a reason unrelated to his happiness. So if he feels happier afterward than does a control subject  (who was manipulated in much the same way into frowning! or maintaining a blank expression), then the direction of the causative arrow will be clear.

In the 1980s, psychologists such as Robert Zajonc began to claim that they had found a small but statistically significant effect -- smiling does create happiness. So .. vindication for the James-Lange theory, right? Well, not really.

Yes, James thought of emotions as the psychological consequence of bodily actions. But it is clear he had in mind instinctive reactions, not the sort of things Zajonc (pictured above)  was coaxing from his university undergrads.

James' notorious example was "We don't become afraid of the bear, and consequently run. We run, and thus become afraid." [I'm quoting from memory, and thus fallibly.] The fight-or-flight instinct causes both the running and the fear, the former more proximately than the latter. It isn't clear to me that this matches up well with Zajonc's hypothesis.

Applied to smiles, James might have said, "We don't find ourselves amused by a witticism, and then smile. We find ourselves smiling as cued by a witticism, and thus feel amused." That is quite different from deliberately manipulating face muscles, and then reacting favorably or otherwise to an unrelated witticism.

At any rate, the Slate article says that recent efforts to replicate the results of Zajonc and others who announced similar findings soon after him, have failed. There might be a number of reasons for this, and some of the explanations might concede that Zajonc nonetheless had a point.

But it has nothing much to do with James-Lange, one way or another.
The relevant hypotheses only sound similar.









Comments

Popular posts from this blog

A Story About Coleridge

This is a quote from a memoir by Dorothy Wordsworth, reflecting on a trip she took with two famous poets, her brother, William Wordsworth, and their similarly gifted companion, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.



We sat upon a bench, placed for the sake of one of these views, whence we looked down upon the waterfall, and over the open country ... A lady and gentleman, more expeditious tourists than ourselves, came to the spot; they left us at the seat, and we found them again at another station above the Falls. Coleridge, who is always good-natured enough to enter into conversation with anybody whom he meets in his way, began to talk with the gentleman, who observed that it was a majestic waterfall. Coleridge was delighted with the accuracy of the epithet, particularly as he had been settling in his own mind the precise meaning of the words grand, majestic, sublime, etc., and had discussed the subject with William at some length the day before. “Yes, sir,” says Coleridge, “it is a majestic wate…

Great Chain of Being

One of the points that Lovejoy makes in the book of that title I mentioned last week is the importance, in the Neo-Platonist conceptions and in the later development of the "chain of being" metaphor, of what he calls the principle of plenitude. This is the underlying notion that everything that can exist must exist, that creation would not be possible at all were it to leave gaps.

The value of this idea for a certain type of theodicy is clear enough.

This caused theological difficulties when these ideas were absorbed into Christianity.  I'll quote a bit of what Lovejoy has to say about those difficulties:

"For that conception, when taken over into Christianity, had to be accommodated to very different principles, drawn from other sources, which forbade its literal interpretation; to carry it through to what seemed to be its necessary implications was to be sure of falling into one theological pitfall or another."

The big pitfalls were: determinism on the on…

Philippa Gregory

My recent reading includes large helpings of Philippa Gregory's latest, THREE SISTERS, THREE QUEENS (2016), another of her fictionalized takes on love and betrayal among the royals of Renaissance Europe.

In this book, the focus is on the early Tudor dynasty, and especially on Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII, founder thereof, and the older sister of the future Henry VIII. Margaret became Queen of Scotland with an arranged marriage to James IV. She reigned and ruled under the title of Dowager Queen after James' death at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.

So who, you ask, were the other two sisters of the novel's title? One is Margaret's blood sister, Mary Tudor, who was known as one of the great beauties of the age. Mary was the inspiration for the name her brother Henry gave to his older daughter. More important for Gregory's story, she wed the King of France (Louis XII) in 1514, and Anne Boleyn served as her maid of honor at that ceremony.

The third &…